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Three Songs That Changed My Life

Editor's note: The following was originally published in the Guitar Tricks forum by 'wildwoman1313'.

When my daughter was declared breech just days before her birth, a friend advised me to lie in an inverted position with headphones low on my bulging belly and use music to try and coax her to flip. Facing a possible C-section, I was game. So I did my damnedest to prop myself up into a quasi-shoulder stand and fed my incubating dumpling a continuous loop of Pink Floyd's Dark Side and Pearl Jam's Ten. Theory was she would gravitate to the music and right herself. Old wives' tale? Perhaps. But when my daughter was born a couple days later, she came out screaming, all pink and squishy—and headfirst.

Music is a great motivator. The right song can help push us through fatigue and get us to run that extra mile. It can alter brainwave patterns much the same as yoga and meditation do, and induce a state of deep relaxation where the mind is more open to problem solving. Music offers comfort and helps us heal. It has the power to manipulate moods. It both soothes and incites. When we listen to a piece of music, we share the artist’s feelings on a visceral level. At its essence, music is recorded emotion that can create profound emotional experiences.

One of my earliest musical memories is that of The Beatles. I was just learning to read Dick-and-Jane books when "She Loves You" was released in September 1963. All those "yeah, yeah, yeahs" made for easy singing for a grade schooler. It was the beginning of Beatlemania here in the States, and although I couldn't have grasped the significance of that phenomenon at such a young age, it nonetheless left its mark.

My cousin, who was in her early teens at the time, had a shoebox full of Beatles trading cards. She kept the box hidden in the dark recesses of her bedroom closet, and every now and then when I would visit, she would disappear in there, rummage around, and come up with it, presenting this cardboard box to me as if it contained the Crown Jewels. There they were, two rows of cards filed neatly by subject: John, Paul, George, Ringo, and group shots of the band. She would pluck a random card from the stacks and attempt to educate me on the importance of each individual band member—there was John, the "smart" Beatle; Paul, the "cute" Beatle; George, the "quiet" Beatle; and Ringo, the "goofy" Beatle. Got it? She also had 45s of the Beatles' music which she played in constant rotation, dancing around her room and going on endlessly about Paul, Paul, Paul.

When The Beatles released their first film, A Hard Day's Night, in 1964, my mother took my cousin and me to the theater to see it. What I remember of that outing is sitting in the dark, surrounded by a hoard of screaming, weeping girls who drown out the movie completely, start to finish. I have only vague recollections of the film itself, but the hysteria surrounding it at the height of Beatlemania is seared into memory.

In the years that followed, I crushed on teen idol Bobby Sherman, novelty acts like Sonny and Cher, bands like Herman's Hermits and a host of other pop acts. And then in 1973, Deep Purple put an abrupt end to that sugarcoated sensibility with the release of "Smoke on the Water" and one of the best guitar riffs ever written. Da da da, da da dada... Simple, but totally bad ass. "Smoke on the Water," the entire Machine Head album, was a game-changer for me. A farewell to innocence.

Like just about everybody else on the planet, I learned Ritchie Blackmore's famous riff and played it non-stop, amplified and not, usually in a wide-legged, hips-thrust-forward, knees-slightly-bent, rock star stance, much to my parents' horror. After all, they were funding my guitar lessons and preferred I play "nice" songs like "Malagueña" and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," legs together.

Deep Purple performed in Pittsburgh in March 1974. Theirs was the first of the hundreds and hundreds of rock concerts I have attended over the course of my life thus far. As part of that audience, I stepped into a brave new world of live music. Ritchie Blackmore was the pied piper who beckoned me down a different, raunchier path. "Smoke on the Water" marked my musical coming of age.

Around about the same time that Deep Purple seduced me and turned me from a budding folkie into a pit-loving animal, Led Zeppelin released their masterpiece, "Stairway to Heaven." Say what you will about "Stairway" being overplayed, overblown, whatever, I was completely and utterly bewitched by the song at first listen and remain so some four decades on. The song stops me in my tracks without fail. No matter the thousands of times I've listened to it, "Stairway" is always fresh to my ears. It funnels in and clutches my heart, squeezing mercilessly.

When I married ages ago, I didn't dare ask the priest that "Stairway" be played as my wedding march, so I asked the DJ that I'd hired to play it at our reception instead. Because it wasn't exactly danceable, my request was unceremoniously denied. "Stairway" will, however, be played at my wake, if I have to come back from the grave and play it myself.

Running at a little over 8 minutes, and composed in several distinct sections—beginning as a slow acoustic-based folk song with recorders in a Renaissance music style and moving gradually into a slow electric mid-section, then an intricate guitar solo by Jimmy Page before the faster hard rock final section, and ending with a short epilogue that echoes the introduction—"Stairway" was unlike any piece of music on the airwaves at the time. It is irrevocably interwoven with memories of black light and first love in my memory.

These are just three of a multitude of songs that have impacted my life and left indelible memories. Your turn. What are some of the songs that make up the soundtrack of your life?

Image Credit: WikiCommons
Post by: James Harper Google+

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